Decisive Moments

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Henri Cartier-Bresson. Juvisy, France. 1938. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer. © 2010 Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos, courtesy Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris

I went to see the Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art the other day and like a lot of people I was struck by how many of those moments are powerfully relatable. With his Leica, he seemed to catch moments in mid-air. Face to face with these images, we find ourselves thinking, "I know that. I have felt exactly what that person was feeling."

Sometimes they are big moments and sometimes they are the most incidental aspects of life that he somehow poured into a mold for eternity. That exchanged look, that gesture of simple affection, that mannerism, that hop we all take over a puddle, that raised eye we give when we look at someone with doubt, the sigh we take between poses. These moments are universal and timeless.

How great is it when an ad conveys something like that. Capturing something basic to everyone and communicating it in an artful way is as good as it gets. But, really, how often do we see an interesting side to ourselves in advertising, a side that we feel we haven't seen before? Not too often.

Even still, precious miracles happen and they become memorable. I think of so many Nike ads, like the new online film for the World Cup that captures an athlete's grand desire to make history. I think of eBay's "Shop Victoriously," that depicts the Rocky-like moment when you finally win an auction; "Wassup," that caught a slice of every guy's frat life; and who doesn't identify with, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing." There's the Priceless spot, about how bridesmaids always end up wearing embarrassing gowns in colors like sea foam green. And... you know how every time you eat peanut butter you practically choke and desperately want milk to wash it down? What about the Cadbury gorilla that makes us recognize the primal impulse for something sweet.

These are moments we recognize, where the moment of recognition itself gives the argument impact.

View the MOMA's online gallery of the exhibit.
View the MOMA's online gallery of the exhibit.

You have to see the Bresson exhibit. Anyone interested in insights and capturing relevance and understanding human behavior should see it. If you can't get to New York, order the book.

Peoples' need for happiness and good will are manifested in numerous minute details. When just the right details are creatively presented, they will strike us with their freshness, but also with their familiarity. Perhaps we could get a consumer to recognize that moment when a particular need arises so that the client's product appears to be the perfect solution. Better yet, perhaps we could get a consumer to think, "So that is what life is like at the moment I use that product—looks like a better life to me!"

Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Modern Century runs through June 28 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Marty Orzio is chief creative officer of Gotham, New York.

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